She watches me so intently. We stand side by side brushing our teeth. It’s almost as though she mirrors me. Later, I put on perfume. “Can I have some too?” she asks. “Look, Mommy, we’re the same” – she points out that we are both wearing grey long-sleeved tops and smiles. Each day I am reminded of the fact that she is watching, always watching.
I see the way she looks at my face while I stare at the dressing room mirror and sigh because my curves aren’t quite where I want them to be. “What’s wrong, Mommy?” “Nothing, baby.” I reach for an empire waist dress I brought in to try on. I’m certain it will work. Unlike myself, when it comes to my own body, it’s forgiving and will hide my misplaced curves.
I’m in my twenties; my dad once told me this was my “prime”. Everything I read says this is when your skin is its most beautiful and your body bounces back the quickest. Why am I different? My arms are boney and my legs thick. My feet, a size 9, have been the topic of many jokes. I’m 5’ 4 ½” but I round up to 5’ 5”. When was I a small child, everyone told me I would be tall, but it seems I never quite grew into my feet.
My stomach remains wrinkly and adorned with stretch marks. When many of my friends were laying poolside in their bikinis enjoying the California sunshine, my mother was walking me into the hospital, my maternity pants soaked because my water broke and my baby was on her way.
Throughout my life, I’ve struggled to accept my physical appearance. My mother would always remind me to be thankful. Her father suffered from diabetes and had no legs and here I was complaining that mine were too fat. And to be honest, it’s never been an issue of gratitude. I’m thankful that when I was in her womb, every piece of me came together and I have made it through life still intact. But for some reason, I’ve always desperately wanted to look pretty and feel pretty, too.
For most of my teenage and young adult years, I looked to other people to tell me I was pretty. When they told me something negative about my appearance, I believed them, thus solidifying my distorted belief that something was wrong with me and when they told me something was right, I often didn’t.
As time passes, I notice that her time in the mirror, gazing at her reflection increases; she’s now seven and taking more interest in her own appearance. I often tell her she’s smart and kind. I want her to know that her value is not based on her exterior but rather who she is inside. My prayer is that, in her heart, she will know that she is beautiful and that she is worthy.
I often look at some of the other women around me, mothers mostly, especially those that are a little older and seemingly more self-assured. For so long I feared “growing up”, but when you get pregnant at 19, it no longer is a matter of choice.
Months ago, I talked to a friend of mine about how my jeans didn’t quite fit the way they used to and how my body had changed over the years. She declared that my body was “more womanly” now. I had grown up and she suggested that maybe it was time to embrace my new size.
As I get closer to my thirties, I can’t help but wonder if with them will come a more confident woman, no longer in the balance between her somewhat tumultuous teenage years and ever so testing twenties. I wonder if then, I will find my stride and a newfound love for me.
Even so, at 28, I desperately seek to embrace the woman I am at this particular moment and the woman I am ultimately becoming. I look across the room at a photo of my daughter and down at my rounded belly, inside it another little person growing. My heart feels full and after a recent scare, I am reminded of how blessed I am that this body, my body, housed and carried my angel – and prayerfully it will continue to carry my other little angel as we travel through the remaining months of this pregnancy.
It will be my job, an honor, to help our children navigate this world and above all else to love and cherish them. My prayer is that my Little Miss and my littlest will have the ability to find comfort in their own skin at an early age and not spend their teens and twenties seeking it in other people’s perception of them. My prayer is that they will value their body, guard it and realize that while it is a big part of who they are, it does not define them.
My challenge now is how to teach them this when I’ve struggled my whole life to be comfortable in my own skin. It is my belief that children often learn the most by what they see.
The next morning, as I struggle to get my tight curls in a ponytail, I glance at my daughter standing in the doorway waiting for me. Rather than asking God why he gave me this particular texture of hair, I decide it’s not worth the struggle; perfection is not necessary and I may as well work with what I’ve got. I form a bun and glance at her and smile. I remind myself to be good to myself and that someone very special is watching, even when I fail to realize it.
I grew up hearing the saying “practice what you preach”. Changing my own thought process, like many things, will take practice. I decide not to focus on what was or my past attempts to accept me for me. I decide to simply practice.